Your Cat's Grooming Habits Could Help The Mars Rover

Photo: Albanpix Ltd/REX Shutterstock
Turns out, your cat's grooming habits could lead to future scientific breakthroughs.

According to The Huffington Post, David Hu, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and his mechanical engineering PhD student, Guillermo Amador, have been studying the different ways in which cats and other animals keep themselves clean. Their hope in studying how these animals actually groom themselves is to discover more efficient ways to keep spaceships, robots, and other man-made objects clean.

In a release about the study, Hu explains: “Drones and other autonomous rovers, including our machines on Mars, are susceptible to failure because of the accumulation of airborne particles," including dirt and other pollutants. These are the same things that affect our pets.

Hu's team at Georgia Tech classified the different, and often weird, ways 27 different mammals and insects kept themselves clean, comparing the "non-renewable" cleaning tactics that require some animals to use their own energy — like dogs shaking water off their backs — to the more efficient ways some animals clean themselves. “They don’t do anything extra to stay clean. It just happens,” Amador said of these self-sufficient groomers. It's these "just happens" ways that could be helpful to companies, if they can be replicated.
The team first measured how much surface area each animal is working to keep clean, finding that the hairier an animal is, the larger its true surface area and the more difficult it is to keep clean. The team reported that hair and fur adds 100 times more area than just skin. “A honeybee’s true surface area is the size of a piece of toast,” Hu wrote. “A cat’s is the size of a ping pong table. A sea otter has as much area as a professional hockey rink.”

The team then focused on the ways in which hair helps animals stay clean. They found that eyelashes were key to the process of "protect[ing] mammals by minimizing airflow and funneling particles away from eyes."

While the information Hu and his team found has not been put to use on NASA's Mars Rover just yet, he says that by collecting this data, they will be able to develop better ways to keep these man-made objects clean.

“Understanding how biological systems, like eyelashes, prevent soiling by interacting with the environment," Hu said, "can help inspire low-energy solutions for keeping sensitive equipment free from dust and dirt."
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